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Parts Left Over

June 21, 2011

So here’s what I’m wondering…

Have you ever embarked on a project with only about half a clue as to what you were doing and you just prayed that the DIY angels would keep you from totally screwing it up?

Yeah, me, too.

ALL the time.

I’m not a “Read All The Instructions Before I Start” kind of gal.

I’m a “If I’ve Got Parts Left Over After It’s Assembled It’s Okay” kind of gal.

My front porch staining project was no different.

I’ve only stained one thing in my entire life, and it’s been ten years since I did that. (I didn’t really enjoy the process so I didn’t rush to repeat it.)

You’d think that since I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing, that I’d have read and researched before I started.

That’s what normal people do. (Remember I’m a “Parts Left Over” person.)

The only thing I researched was the brand, color and transparency I wanted.


Why? Consumer Reports rated it extremely well, and Lowes sells it. Got a Lowes gift card from my parents/sister/BIL for my birthday (they love and know me well). Gift Card = Free = Perfect For Me.


Why? House is Boring White. Shutters are Boring Black. Boring White + Boring Black = Boring Gray.


Why? Solid looked like paint. (Flat paint. Ugh.) Semi-transparent allowed too much “wood” color to show through…not “boring gray” enough.

Now…and I’m about to defend my lack of pre-staining education here…you’d think that a company with a really big website to sell stain would offer really good information about how to use the product. Maybe a video or two?

Uhhh…not necessarily.

Yep. That’s the info on Cabot’s website.

Not very instructive if you ask me.

So I did what any “Parts Left Over” kind of person would do in a situation like this.

I figured I’d figure it out as I went along.

Step 1: An Ounce of Prevention
I taped off the adjacent areas that I did not want to get stained.

(Editors Note: The author of this post should have used Two Ounces of Prevention)

Step 2: More Prevention
I’ve demonstrated my mad painting skills. I figured those skills would translate to staining. Note the drip tray lined with an entire roll of paper towels. Also note my stirring spatula (works way better than a stick). The stain needs to be stirred fairly frequently during application. Stir gently…over zealous stirring can cause bubbles. Stain + bubbles = bad stain job. And never ever shake your stain. (Because of the bubble reason just mentioned…and yeah, I know if you get a custom color they shake it at the store. That should be the only time your stain is ever shaken.)

(Editors Note: The author elected to use a cheesy foam brush. Experts recommend a high quality natural bristle brush for the application of stain. The author is lazy. She does not like to clean up oil-based products which require solvents and work. The author is cheap. She does not like to throw away expensive high quality natural bristle brushes which is precisely what she would do because she is too lazy to clean the brush with the aforementioned solvents. As editors we recommend that you use a high quality natural bristle brush and that you do not exhibit the horrible personality traits of the author.)

Step 3: Apply Stain
Basically what I figured out is that staining outside is just like painting outside.

  1. Do not stain unless the weatherman predicts no rain for 48 hours.  Okay, that makes sense. The stain needs time to dry.
  2. Do not apply stain in direct sunlight. What? Yeah, right! Like my porch is in a basement. Basically this means do not apply stain when it’s 900 freakin’ million degrees outside. This time of year you probably need to stain in the early morning or the early evening or when the area you’re staining is catching some shade.
  3. Cover anything that could be damaged by drips, splatters or splashes. This could include nearby plants or a space beneath the area you’re staining (especially if you have the same sort of mad painting skills that I have).
  4. Plan your staining so that you don’t stain yourself into a corner. You want to make sure you can get off the deck or porch when you’re done ‘cuz you do not want to have to stand outside for two days while it dries. This may mean you need to stain on either side of a set of stairs before staining the boards in front of the stairs.
  5. Start at the high and work to the low. If you’re going to stain railings, do the handrails first, then the posts, then the horizontal member at the bottom. Finish up with the deck/porch itself.
  6. Apply stain to the edges of your boards and on any overhangs. Do this even if you don’t think anyone will notice. Trust me, they will.
  7. Work your joints. That didn’t sound good…even to me. Just make sure you work your brush down into the gaps between your boards.
  8. Maintain a wet edge and back brush to avoid lap marks.

(Editors Note: Our author (sigh) is an idiot requires additional blog author training. She has made the fatal assumption that the reader is versed in the terminology “wet edge”, “back brushing” and “lap marks”.  She did not photograph herself demonstrating proper technique.)

(Authors Note: My editors (sigh) are idiots require additional editorial training. You cannot take pictures of your own staining techniques while you’re staining…unless you’re an octopus.)

So for those of you who don’t know what the terminology “wet edge”, “back brushing” or “lap marks” mean…here are explanations accompanied by some “borrowed” photos…

This is a photo of a “wet edge” (photo borrowed from It is the place where the paint or stain in the “wet” (already painted or stained) area meets the “dry” area (not painted or stained). A “wet edge” is still workable…meaning you can work paint or stain into it/across it without creating an ugly and unwanted “lap mark” provided that you “back brush” (also known as “keeping a wet edge”).

These three photos (borrowed from demonstrate the 1-2-3 method of back brushing. Think of each brush stroke as having three parts: (1) after loading your brush with paint or stain, put your brush down onto a dry part of the area you are working and pull your brush back toward your “wet edge”; (2) after overlapping the wet edge, move your brush forward into the dry area; (3) move your brush back across this newly stained area and across your initial wet edge.  You can go back and forth more than three times, in fact, three’s the minimum, but don’t overdo it. Back brushing makes sure both that the new and old strokes blend seamlessly and causes the paint/stain to better adhere to the surface. This technique is also known as “keeping a wet edge”, and it is necessary if you want to avoid the dreaded “lap marks”.

The photo above (borrowed from Benjamin Moore) clearly shows the dreaded “lap marks”. Lap marks can occur for several reasons. The most common is allowing the “wet edge” to dry or failing to “back brush”. It can also happen if the paint or stain is applied on a surface that’s too hot or when the surface is too porous.

(Authors Note: Hope the editors are happy.)

Well, I believe this has been the longest post ever created in the history of blogging, but I hope you’ve found it to be helpful, entertaining, or just that thing you needed to help you with your insomnia.

And don’t tell my editors (‘cuz I hate it when they’re right), but I agree with them about the good brush thing. Don’t be cheap, and don’t be lazy.

At least not when it comes to this.

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